|Wednesday, November 20
Updated: November 21, 4:48 PM ET
Smith scores against Charles with the kiss
By Joe Lago
It's the November sweeps period, and in an effort to get bigger ratings, TV networks rely on all sorts of gimmicks to pump up viewership. There's the cameo appearances trick (like the upcoming guest spots of Christina Applegate and Julia Roberts on "Friends"). And there's the "to be continued" ploy in which you're forced to tune in next week to find out how the story ends ("24" used this for an entire season).
TNT's "Inside the NBA" will have a ratings boon on its hands Thursday and it didn't even expect it.
Charles Barkley certainly didn't.
Barkley is expected to pay up on his bet with colleague Kenny Smith -- that Yao Ming wouldn't score 19 points in a game this season -- and kiss Smith's derriere on the show's set in Atlanta. No TV smooch has gotten this much attention since "Ellen."
The Chuckster is not getting out of it, too. Smartly, Smith has refused to answer Barkley's calls, and he's even turned off his cell phone.
Will TNT be able to sneak this past censors to document the event? "This is cable, so we've got a lot more flexibility," Smith said Wednesday. "All I'm going to say is that I'm going to come out on top. I will not look foolish."
The late Brandon Tartikoff couldn't have come up with better timing. Three nights after Barkley's latest Yao bashing -- with apologies to Conan O'Brien, it was one of the funniest bits on late-night TV in quite some time -- the No. 1 overall pick scored a career-high 20 points in the Rockets' 93-89 road win over the Lakers. In the three games since The Bet, Yao has made 18 of 20 shots from the field.
Smith is expected to collect at halftime of Thursday's Rockets-Mavericks game.
"The guy's in hiding, man," Smith said. "He tried to call me because I saw the 602 (area code) in Phoenix (where Barkley lives). I wouldn't even answer it if it was him."
Barkley ridiculed Smith on the air ever since Smith said Yao was the Rockets' best player. "He said, 'Are you crazy? Have you heard of Steve Francis? Cuttino Mobley?" Smith recalled. Smith remembered the drastic improvement of Kevin Garnett during his rookie season and figured Yao would do the same. He even researched Garnett's stats from his first 15 games. Yao's numbers were similar.
"That's what made me say it (that) Yao's going to have a big game," Smith said. "That's when Charles said if Yao Ming scores 19 points I'll kiss your ass. Lo and behold, in the same week, Yao has 20 points."
Barkley won't be the first sports analyst to be embarrassed on national TV. At the U.S. Open, tennis commentator John McEnroe promised to stand on his head if Richard Krajicek lost all six of his match points to Jan Siemerink in a fourth-set tie-breaker. McEnroe was in the booth upside down the next night.
McEnroe had a pillow to rest his head. There will be nothing to soften the, um, kiss for Barkley -- or Smith.
Said Smith: "I told him that I still lose if I win because of you kissing me."
David Wesley happened to be standing in the right place when Jamal Mashburn's attempt at the game-winning shot grazed the front rim, the rebound slipped through the hands of Brian Skinner and Eric Snow and the ball bounced straight to the Hornets guard. Wesley's catch-and-release jumper beat the buzzer and the 76ers in a 99-98 victory.
Joe Lago, NBA editor for ESPN.com, writes Morning Shootaround every Wednesday and Friday.